Nikki’s Inbox: Internship Outfit Dilemma vs. Her Style Comfort Zone

I’m in my third year of university and already looking for internship and working opportunities in a couple of countries for graphic design and media. I worry that when I start working, I may have to change my wardrobe quite drastically as I dress pretty casually — jeans, T-shirt or button-down shirt, sneakers and a casual jacket, sweater or hoodie. I’m still quite young for a student almost in her final year, but once I graduate, I’m not sure a hoodie and jeans would cut it in the workplace.

I would describe my style as tomboyish, but I do try to step out of my comfort zone and experiment with more preppy or feminine styles, like wearing bracelets and rings, or headbands (my hair is short, so I can’t tie it up yet). I used to be very tomboyish to the point where I get mistaken as a boy, but now I’m learning to embrace the feminine side of myself. I still greatly dislike wearing skirts though, and only wear dresses for special occasions. My wardrobe mostly consists of black and white clothing, with a few dark colours like dark blue or red, and brighter colours like pale yellow, with simple designs, a few checkered patterns or floral prints. My shoes are the same — mostly sneakers that are plain, or features interesting patterns or floral prints. I think I’m quite an average Asian girl with a pear-shaped figure (80cm bust, 69cm waist, 91cm hips, 158cm height) but because my shoulders are wide (42 cm), I look like I have an hourglass figure.

I’ve been slowly updating my wardrobe by buying other jackets that aren’t hoodie jackets, and the occasional work pants or slightly formal tops from YesStyle, but I can never bring myself to wear them because when I put them on, I look and feel awkward. I’m very comfortable with the way I look and I like how I currently express myself with my style, but I do want to go beyond jeans and sneakers for a more sophisticated daily look without looking too old for my age. Do you have any tips on how I can achieve this?

Shun-Nga Hui, 19/Australia

These days, a lot of companies embrace a relaxed dress code, especially for the creative industry. It’s hard to concentrate on the job or task if you’re constantly tugging at your skirt, or fidgeting with one’s tie and buttons. Since you’re applying as an intern, you might get some sort of exemption from the office dress code, if there is one. But your efforts to broaden your style certainly won’t hurt!

My first advice is to take it one step at a time. So let’s tackle your problem into digestible bits, okay?

Live in Your Jeans and Trousers

Let’s start with your jeans and trousers, Shun-Nga. I don’t know what your jean preferences are but I highly recommend dark washes. I’m talking about dark indigo colors and black, and yes you can even try white. Skip the whiskered/distressed/bleached versions and opt for classic straight-leg or slim-fit styles. Alternate them with your work trousers.

Speaking of trousers, I hope the ones you bought are flat-front as they’re better on us pear shapes. Ease into those trousers, and wear them at least once a week or on weekends to see if they can withstand your day-to-day lifestyle. You can then figure out if the length and cut are right for you , i.e., do you need them altered (the right inseams are important), what belts/shoes/tops go with them, to tuck in tops or not, etc. The more often you wear those trousers, the less “alien” they will feel.

A Good Mix of Casual and Dressy Tops

Don’t get rid of your T-shirts yet since you might be able to wear some of them during your internship. Plain and simple are better to rock a more laidback yet sophisticated style so look for soft, jersey fabrics which are curvy-friendly. V-necks and scoopnecks can be accessorized with chokers or statement necklaces, and they look good under a smart blazer too, especially for us broad-shouldered ladies. The blouses and shirts you have seem to be okay, Shun-Nga. I only hope they fit you well — which means neither oversized nor tight. If you’re unsure about pairing them with pants, start with a monochromatic palette like black and gray, or black and white with a few neutrals like navy blue, or a bright red piece thrown in for contrast. A rule of thumb I follow for “meh” days is a lightly-patterned or bright-colored top plus dark jeans. A patterned scarf for accent or nice earrings and that’s it!

Chic Cover-Ups

Don’t hide your hoodies. If they’re lightweight and plain-colored, you may be able to rock them under a blazer, denim jacket or even peacoat. It’s a tried-and-tested preppy style that works with jeans and trousers, and even with skirts. If you feel too warm or awkward, just remove one. Aside from blazers and casual jackets, don’t forget cardigans. I find that open-front, drapey cardigans are more versatile than the conventional buttoned ones. Since they only drape over the body instead of cling (thus no gaping!), the effect is more sophisticated yet relaxed. They’re also versatile since you can wear them for some formal meetings or even some after-work events.

Simply Dressy

I understand your aversion for skirts, dear. I don’t want to bother figuring out what top to go with whatever skirt. If you share that sentiment, then dresses are your best option. And yes, at some point, we have to wear them, whether you like it or not. I love mock two-piece dresses myself because I don’t have to worry about picking the wrong top. Also, mock two-pieces have that easy, effortless elegance. Look for dresses that have defined waists (with a sash, belt or elasticized waist) because they create a more flattering and smarter silhouette. The nice thing about these styles is that you can wear them with plain white sneakers if you want, heels or flats, ankle boots with nice tights, or even sandals in warmer weather.

I wish you the very best of luck in your internship and the new you!

P.S. If you’re sending a question, please don’t forget to include any helpful information about your body type or shape, your tastes or personality. You can include a selfie (link only please) or a photo of your clothes (which I will never publish without pre-approval). Thank you!

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